PURCELL (1659-1695) Theatre Music - Volume 1 Amphytrion, or theTwo Sosias, Z.572
(1690) [25:19] Sir Barnaby Whigg, Z.589 (?1681) [3:49] The Gordian Knot Unty’d, Z.597 (?1690) [17:00] Circe, Z.575 (?1689) [13:25]
Nicola Bower; Andrea
Jeffrey; Michelle Kettrick (sopranos); Rosalind McArthur (mezzo);
Peter Mahon (countertenor); Brian Duyn (tenor); Neil
Aronoff; Giles Tomkins (basses)
Ensemble/Kevin Mallon (violin)
rec. Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto, 25-29 April
Sung texts available at Naxos
website. NAXOS 8.570149 [59:32]
Music – Volume 1’ would appear to signal the intention
of Naxos to record the incidental music Purcell composed
for 43 plays as detailed in Zimmerman’s analytical catalogue,
the Z numbers in the heading. To give a different perspective
from the review of
this CD by Mark Sealey, I’ll compare Mallon’s approach
with that of The Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
who between 1974 and 1983 recorded all the incidental music,
currently only available complete on 6 CDs (Decca 475 529-2).
Hogwood uses strings only, five first and five second violins
in The Gordian Knot Unty’d, otherwise four first
and second violins, always backed by three violas and three
gambas. Mallon uses a smaller body of strings, three first
and second violins, two violas and one gamba but varies
the palette more by adding recorder, oboe, bassoon and
percussion on occasion.
Overture to the comedy Amphitryon (tr. 1) is given
a sprightly, skipping, preening manner by Kevin Mallon,
followed by a frisky central section before a more formal
close. Hogwood’s Overture is more regal and also leisurely,
taking 2:39 against Mallon’s equivalent timing of 1:54
before Mallon repeats the central and final sections whereas
Hogwood only repeats the first. Hogwood’s central section
is still active though not as merry as Mallon’s while his
closing one is firmer and more majestic than Mallon’s.
In the Saraband (tr. 2) Mallon is sheeny and confident,
with cool doubling of the first violin line by recorder,
more neatly pointed than Hogwood, faster at 0:55 against
Hogwood’s 1:08, making Hogwood appear more staid. Then
comes a first Hornpipe (tr. 3), a lively dance made more
so by Mallon’s addition of tambourine which emphasises
both the beat and scope for ornamentation in its trills.
This is played twice, with repeats. This is Mallon’s usual
generous practice, not Hogwood’s. It does give a feel of
the potential extent of such dances in the context of the
play’s performance. Hogwood’s first Hornpipe goes with
a fair swing and has an inner resilience but Mallon is
faster with one presentation taking 1:00 against Hogwood’s
1:08 and lighter with tambourine providing the impetus.
Mallon and Hogwood bring an element of the grotesque to
the Scotch Tune (tr. 5). Hogwood gives just Purcell’s four
part version swirling racily around in giddy fashion. Mallon’s
opening spotlight on the tune plain and simple, played
by solo violin over a drone has more dignity, character
and humour but after this the four part version decked
out further with lissom ornamentation, however delicious,
seems over arty. The Air (tr. 7) is given a boisterous
theatricality by Mallon by the addition of side drum, though
Hogwood is still sheenily regal. To the Minuet (tr. 8)
Mallon brings smoothness and style, especially in its intimate
presentation second time around on solo instruments with
recorder on the top line, though Hogwood gives more attention
to the plaintive element underlying the gleaming façade.
The second Hornpipe (tr. 10) finds Mallon light and deft,
where Hogwood is rigorously efficient, Mallon’s second
time around enlivened by recorder doubling the top line.
It appears at the beginning in Mallon’s Bouree (tr. 11)
making what with Hogwood is sprightly and confident more
cheery still with an increase of ornamentation in repeats.
You could say Hogwood is more exquisite, Mallon more entertaining
in bringing the theatrical ambience to life.
also supplied three songs for Amphitryon. ‘Celia,
that I once was blest’ (tr. 4) is first presented by Mallon
in an instrumental version for violin solo, not proven
authentic practice in this case as far as I know, but it
gives you a sense of the character and artistry of the
melodic line before you hear the words. But the second
of its three verses is then omitted. Though published in
the soprano clef it’s addressed to Celia and better sung
by a man as it was in the theatre. So Martyn Hill’s performance
for Hogwood is preferable to Andrea Jeffrey’s for Mallon.
She articulates intently but without Hill’s throwaway jauntiness
especially found in the airy freedom of the rise and fall
of the close of its refrain. ‘For Iris I sigh’ (tr. 6)
is a worldly wise song also intently articulated by Michelle
Kettrick for Mallon with ornamentation stressing the artificiality
of the relationship. But Judith Nelson’s faster tempo for
Hogwood, the equivalent first verse taking 1:00 against
Mallon’s 1:11, better suits the song’s wry, easy inconstancy.
A Pastoral Dialogue between Thyrsis and Iris (tr. 9) features
the man mapping out in music the hoped for length of a
kiss and the woman equally indicating the amount of patience
required before success, but soon she yields. Nicole Bower
and Giles Tomkins for Mallon bring more droll dramatic
relish to the situation and an affirmative closing duet
in comparison with Judith Nelson and Christopher Keyte
for Hogwood who are more punctilious in the courtship but
lighter in the duet.
Barnaby Whigg Purcell provided ‘Blow, Boreas, blow’,
a dramatic arioso of extreme vocal range to depict vividly
the ascents and descents experienced in a storm. Bryan
Duyn for Mallon (tr. 12) shows the heroic response under
pressure with full adrenalin. For Hogwood, published
1985, Rogers Covey-Crump is clearer but calmer in expression.
The closing section is a duet. Duyn is joined by Giles
Tomkins and the mood, while still one of valiant defiance,
lightens. Covey-Crump is joined by David Thomas and they
get across better its drinking song nature, both jolly
Gordian Knot Unty’d is all
instrumental music. Creating a contrast from what has
gone before, Mallon begins this in more reserved fashion.
The introduction of the Overture (tr. 13) has a regal
severity before a deftly darting fast section and sombre
slow coda. With his larger body of strings Hogwood, published
1976, is more majestic and formal with an even darker
coda. Mallon’s Second Music Air (tr. 14) is a happier
perspective with bounce and confident swing though Hogwood’s
greater weight here makes it even more high spirited.
Mallon’s Second Music Minuet (tr. 15), by contrast, is
sunny but weightier than Hogwood’s greater delicacy and
clarity of inner parts and so seems steadier. In the
First Act Tune Air (tr. 16) Mallon vigorously emphasises
the rhythmic contrasts with a tapered dancing manner
to the ends of phrases, yet Hogwood’s pointing is lighter
to neater effect. The Second Act Tune Rondeau Minuet
(tr. 17) Mallon, using solo instruments makes smooth
and stylish with something of sorrowful dignity about
it. Hogwood also uses solo instruments but in a lighter,
more wistful and intimate manner. In the Third Act Tune
Air (tr. 18) Mallon reintroduces the recorder. It takes
over the top line to effervescent effect, making Hogwood’s
daintiness seem rather plain. The Fourth Act Tune Jig
(tr. 19) has as its bass the tune ‘Lilliburlero’. Mallon
makes this explicit by ushering it in with side drum
and then bassoon just playing that tune before Purcell’s
Jig is niftily sketched above it. Hogwood is more exuberant
but the foundation tune is less apparent. The Chacone
(tr. 20) is forthrightly presented by Mallon, the oboe
doubling of the top line making it airier. Hogwood brings
a steely projection and resolve to it, a more formal,
less flowing manner than Mallon whose lighter approach
brings a more satisfying feel of elements being integrated.
music for Circe is a complete scene of vocal solos
and choruses in which the appearance of the gods of the
underworld is invoked. The opening bass solo and chorus, ‘We
must assemble by a sacrifice’ (tr. 20), Mallon makes urgent,
the recorder doubling the top line here adds to the eagerness
which has a bloodthirsty quality. But Hogwood, taking 2:35
against Mallon’s 1:39, is more spacious and majestic yet
still conveys with emphatic momentum through the roulades
on ‘range’ the vast potential of demons that might be summoned.
The countertenor solo ‘The air with music gently wound’ (tr.
22 0:37) is in strong contrast in Mallon’s recording hushed
and reverent from Peter Mahon with the echoing chorus contemplative,
though James Bowman’s solo for Hogwood is more memorably
voluptuous. Brian Duyn’s tenor solo ‘Come every demon’ (tr.
23) for Mallon has a hearty, direct appeal but Martyn Hill
for Hogwood is more subtle in his arch, sportive manner. ‘Lovers
who to their first embraces go’ is a brightly articulated
soprano solo by Nicole Bower for Mallon but the following
solo by mezzo Rosalind McArthur is more tellingly delivered
for Hogwood by countertenor James Bowman. The chorus ‘Great
minister of Fate’ is from Mallon eager, pacy and pepped
up by recorder doubling the violin top line but again lacks
Hogwood’s stately majesty which makes more of its chromatic
closing sting, ‘Famine and pestilence about you wait’.
Mallon curiously places this pair of solos and chorus at
the end (tr. 26), presumably to have a closing chorus,
but in the original setting, as from Hogwood, ‘Pluto, arise!’ is
the final invocation because only this succeeds. Mallon’s
Magicians’ Dance (tr. 24) is light on its feet and stealthy;
Hogwood’s is firmer and rather jocular. ‘Pluto, arise!’ (tr.
25) is given plenty of urgency and gusto by Neil Aronoff
for Mallon but lacks the more colourful majestic ease of
greater freedom of delivery found by Christopher Keyte
for Hogwood, taking 1:39 against Mallon’s 1:17.
sum up, Mallon offers lively performances of a good cross-section
of Purcell’s theatre music. The instrumental performances
are especially enjoyable and bring the theatrical environment
to life more than Hogwood’s. But the vocal performances
are generally less stylish than Hogwood’s, partly owing
to their generally swift tempi, partly because the glowing
acoustic of Toronto’s Grace Church is kinder to the close
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